by Gary Paulsen
Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. Brian is forced to crash-land the plane in a lake–and finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure.
Brian had been distraught over his parents’ impending divorce and the secret he carries about his mother, but now he is truly desolate and alone. Exhausted, terrified, and hungry, Brian struggles to find food and make a shelter for himself. He has no special knowledge of the woods, and he must find a new kind of awareness and patience as he meets each day’s challenges. Is the water safe to drink? Are the berries he finds poisonous?
Slowly, Brian learns to turn adversity to his advantage–an invading porcupine unexpectedly shows him how to make fire, a devastating tornado shows him how to retrieve supplies from the submerged airplane. Most of all, Brian leaves behind the self-pity he has felt about his predicament as he summons the courage to stay alive.
A story of survival and of transformation, this riveting book has sparked many a reader’s interest in venturing into the wild.
I’m not going to provide a summary because the above synopsis does a pretty good job. Plus, I feel like Hatchet is an American classic; if you haven’t read it you’ve probably still heard of it.
Surprisingly, I had not read Hatchet before last year. This is odd as I adore Julie of the Wolves and read My Side of the Mountain as a pre-teen. And I’ve read pretty much every book written by Bill Wallace. I have no idea why I never read Hatchet, but my husband and I decided to remedy that and listened to the audiobook during our annual holiday road trip.
Hatchet was fantastic. For those who don’t know, my husband and I are both pilots and minimalist campers. I have been flying for most of my life and M is really good at survival style camping. Paulsen’s descriptions of the flight (and subsequent crash) are spot on, obviously written by someone with aviation experience. Brian’s successes, and failures, at survival are also quite realistic. Paulsen provides exquisitely detailed descriptions that pull the reader through the story, and Hatchet is a fantastic example of solid character development. It’s a ‘coming of age’ story that was actually enjoyable, without the pages upon pages of teenage angst that now represents the genre standard.
The only ‘negative’ point is there are some pretty gruesome moments as Brian survives the plane crash, multiple injuries, a moose attack, and a tornado. The book is not for the faint of heart and there are a number of people I wouldn’t recommend it to because the well written passages would leave them terrified of small aircraft and the great outdoors. This is not necessarily a fault against the book, just a point audiences need to be aware of.
Hatchet holds up as a classic survival story and I personally think it needs to remain as standard reading for preteens…especially as society forgets the skills of basic survival. I feel like its a book for any season, and look forward to picking it up again.
Does anyone else love Hatchet? What are your favorite survival stories? (I have so many on my list!)